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In Dentistry, what is a Dentition?

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  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2016
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Dentition is a term which refers to the arrangement of the teeth in the mouth. Different animals can have very different dentition depending on their primary diets; in humans, there are 32 teeth shared between the upper and lower jaws. The teeth can provide a great deal of information about a person or animal and how it lives or lived; biologists, archaeologists, and dentists all study dentition as part of their work.

Many animals are born with what is known as primary, milk, baby, or deciduous dentition. Teeth start to form in the jaw in utero and erupt after birth. These primary teeth remain in place in childhood and are gradually replaced by the adult or secondary dentition. Typically the deciduous dentition features fewer teeth which are also smaller, and these teeth can be retained for varying amounts of time. Some animals may have more than two sets of teeth, allowing three or four sets of teeth to grow in sequentially.

Depending on what an organism eats, its teeth can be quite varied. Animals like humans have what is known as heterodont dentition, meaning that their dentition is made up of a mixture of tooth types. This allows humans to eat a varied diet because they have teeth equipped for grinding, cutting, and tearing. By contrast, animals like armadillos are homodonts, with only one type of tooth, because this suffices for their dietary need.

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Dentists study dentition so that they can care more effectively for their patients. In dental school, doctors learn about how the teeth develop, what they are comprised of, and what kind of problems can emerge in the mouth. Humans can experience problems ranging from impacted teeth to cavities. Using tools like dental molds, x-ray images, and visual examinations, dentists can learn about the arrangement of teeth in a specific patient and develop appropriate treatment plans.

People like archaeologists are interested in the teeth of historic humans and non-human animals because they provide interesting information about the process of evolution as well as how animals lived at various periods in history. Likewise, forensic anthropologists can use teeth to identify victims of crimes or to collect information which can assist with identification, including making impressions of toothmarks to find people associated with a crime scene. For example, if a criminal eats an apple and tosses it aside, the marks in the apple can be studied and compared against casts taken from the mouths of suspects to see if there is a match.

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starrynight
Post 3

I think out of all the animals I've heard of, sharks have the most interesting primary dentition. They have several rows of sharp teeth, and they can grow new teeth all the time. That's why people find sharks teeth on the beach so frequently! Because sharks are always losing their teeth and growing new ones.

I think this would be a really handy skill to have as a human. I've had a ton of dental problems, and I would love it if I could grow a whole new set of teeth!

SZapper
Post 2

@indemnifyme - You're right, we probably would look a lot different if we were carnivores!

Anyway, I always think it's interesting on television when they use maxillary dentition to find the perpetrator of a crime. Or, sometimes, like on the show Bones, they use the dentition of the victim to help solve the crime.

I remember one episode where they were able to find out about the victims diet and where they had grown up by using the teeth. They were able to figure out the victim was Amish, because they could tell by his teeth he didn't live a modern lifestyle. I thought that was totally amazing!

indemnifyme
Post 1

Very interesting! I had no idea that some animals only have one type of teeth. I suppose it would make sense for carnivores to only have sharp teeth though, because all they eat is meat pretty much. What would be the point of them having teeth equipped for eating something they don't really eat?

I've also never thought about how our various types of teeth allow to have a varied diet. Just imagine how different our dentition would be if we had evolved to only eat meat or only eat vegetables! I think all of our mouths would look quite different!

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